A technical error linked to a federal emergency alert system mistakenly sent an alarming evacuation order to cellphones throughout Contra Costa County last month, according to Contra Costa County Emergency Services officials.
Heather Tieman of the county's Emergency Services Division debriefed the Board of Supervisors this morning about how the evacuation order, meant only for parts of Alamo after a gas leak on July 24, morphed text alerts urging people countywide to evacuate.
A short time before noon on July 24, two sets of automated phone messages went out to about 2,000 landlines and cellphones located mostly in the area of Stone Valley Road in Alamo, urging residents there to evacuate as a precaution after a gas leak at 3195 Danville Blvd.
At the same time, the county's emergency alert vendor, Alerting Solutions, unintentionally activated a tool linked to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that automatically sent the same alert to cellphone users countywide.
Tieman stressed that Alerting Solutions is not connected to the phone-dialing vendor used by the county during the fire at Chevron's Richmond fire last August that in many cases sent phone messages about the fire only after a significant delay.
The emergency text message sent on July 24 urged people to leave the county with no additional explanation, alarming cellphone users throughout the county.
Tieman said she could not estimate how many people received the text alert, but said it went out to compatible cellphones under wireless service providers that participate in the federal program.
"It's a very young system, the federal system, and we don't have a lot of control over how people directly get the notifications," Tieman said.
She said the technical error has since been corrected, and that the county is working with FEMA and the federal warning system operators to help prevent similar glitches.
Tieman said the county also plans to educate the community more about how to register for emergency alerts.
People can register to receive alerts for up to five addresses throughout the county under the county's emergency alert system, she said.
"What we suggest people do is that they register for the areas where they are," Tieman said.
To register to receive emergency alerts, residents may visit www.cococws.us.
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